Earlier this afternoon the Right Reverend John Shelby Spong, former Episcopal Bishop of Newark in the Episcopal Church of the United States, released the following Tweet:
Christianity is not about the divine becoming human so much as it is about the human becoming divine. pic.twitter.com/l0TIWWlS6l
— John Shelby Spong (@JohnShelbySpong) November 21, 2014
Now, in all fairness to Bishop Spong Twitter is a medium that only allows you 140 characters to say what you want to see. However, Bishop Spong has a very well documented litany of statements and more importantly entire books with ideas that fly in the face of (small-o) orthodox Christian understanding. Now, I am not talking about Human Sexuality whatsoever; I’m talking the fundamentals like basic Christology. the Resurrection and the Ascension. This topics and his positions are likely beyond being Heterodoxy and into the downright Heretical.
Bishop Spong’s quote is a bit of a play on a quote by St. Athanasius of Alexandria:
[Christ/God the Son] was God, and then became man, and that to deify us
This usually gets rendered as “God became man, so that we might become god” (note the lower g on the second god). The quote by St. Athanasius is linked heavily with the Atonement, linking the importance of the Incarnation of Christ with our Salvation.
In Bishop Spong’s statement he is very clear that the important part of Christianity (what it is all about) is “the human becoming divine” and not “the divine becoming human”. Again, Bishop Spong might be limited to 140 characters in explaining his view to us, however, it’s utterly wrong.
St. Athanasius’ is, along with many others, building on 2 Peter 1:4
Thus he has given us, through these things, his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of lust, and may become participants in the divine nature.
Thus, the very act of God becoming Human (the Incarnation) for the purposes of bringing Man to God is very grounded in Scripture and the Church Fathers. In truth, I could make a million page blog based on this if I felt like it.
Now, Bishop Spong is not an idiot. He holds a a Master’s of Divinity. He has done a lot of Biblical scholarship. He was an active Diocesan Bishop for 21 years. But, more importantly he has authored (according to his Wikipedia article) 24 books, eight of which have come out since he retired as Bishop of Newark in 2000. So, he should know better.
Bishop Spong is, luckily, part of a breed of leaders within Anglicanism that are starting to fade; Those who think that the entirety of Christian Theology needs to be turned on its head to work with the modern world. I disagree with him very strongly. However, there are still a lot of people (Anglicans, non-Anglicans and non-Christians) who believe what he is saying very strongly … and buy his books.
I have a lot of good friends who are Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Evaneglical and even Anglicans that are in the Anglican Church of North America. We spar sometimes but we mostly get along. One of my biggest “Sigh” moments comes to defending fellow Anglicans/Episcopalians (most of whom are self-described “Progressives” or “Liberals”) when they say or believe in inane things. Bishop Spong is one of these people.
Bishop Spong makes be facepalm when he says or tweets things like this not because I think it is stupid, not because I think he is trying to promote his books (which he probably is) but because he actually believes it … and he is getting other people to believe it as well.
The Great Litany contains the petition:
V. From all sedition, conspiracy, and rebellion; from all false doctrine, heresy, and schism; from hardness of heart, and contempt of thy Word and Commandment,
R. Good Lord, deliver us.
What Bishop Spong has stated today on Twitter is exactly something we pray for in this Petition. However, the Great Litany also contains the petition:
V. To give to all Bishops, Priests, and Deacons, true knowledge and understanding of thy Word; and that both by their preaching and living they may set it forth and show it accordingly,
R. We beseech thee, good Lord.
Bishop Spong makes me facepalm. And I shouldn’t be doing that. I should be praying that he will be given “true knowledge and understanding of [God’s] Word; and that [in his] preaching and living [he] may set it forth and show it accordingly.” Bishop Spong’s statement should have petitioning prayers for him and not have me facepalming.
May those of us Anglicans who hold to a traditional and orthodox understanding of the Holy Trinity, the Incranation, the Nativity, the Baptism, the Passion and Death, the Resurrection and Ascension of our Lord God Jesus Christ pray for those who have strayed. Amen.